Climbing Lessons

I went rock climbing – on real rock – for the first time. I’ve had several opportunities, but I’ve always been too chicken to try – I hate being the noob. My brother and his family were here on vacation, so my sister, her boyfriend, and I took them rock climbing. Since I wasn’t going to be the only novice climber, I thought it was the perfect time to try.

After watching everyone’s first attempts, it was my turn. They weren’t going to let me weasel out of it, so I roped up, put my I’m-not-going-to-think-I’m-just-going-to-do-it blinders on, and started up the rock.

Sissy's first climb-2
Buddy check
Sissy's first climb-4
Trusting my belayer

Climbing isn’t about having strong arms or tremendous finger strength, although they do help. It’s mostly about trust. First of all, you have to trust your equipment. You have to trust that the hardware bolted to the rock is secure. You have to trust that your rope won’t break if you should fall. You have to trust that your shoes will grip the rock and you have to trust the harness to securely connect you to the rope and consequently, to your belayer.

Secondly, you have to trust your belayer. They literally have your life in their hands. Their job is to allow you enough slack to move up the rock, yet not too much so that if you fall, you won’t fall far. You have to trust that your belayer is going to pay attention and knows what they’re doing.

Finally, you have to trust yourself. You have to get past the fear that tells you that you can’t do it, that you’ll fall, and if you fall, you’ll die. You know that voice is just fear yammering in your ear. You know that you’re as safe as you can be. Your only job is to focus on the rock right in front of you, to look for those tiny places to put your fingers and toes, and take one step at a time. Oh yes. And don’t forget to breathe.

Sissy's first climb-5Sissy's first climb-6Sissy's first climb-7

There was a point where I didn’t think I’d be able to go any further. The bump in the rock where I had my toe was so small and the blip of rock where I had my fingers was so miniscule, that I thought there was no way I could take another step. However, I dug deep and decided to trust my belayer – my sister – to catch me. I took a deep breath and pushed up. To my surprise, I didn’t fall. For me, that was the crux. After that, I knew I could make it all the way.

Sissy's first climb-8

I turned around to look at Long’s Peak and the lake below – there is never a better view than the one at the summit. I even looked down at my family below, who were cheering wildly for me, and I had no fear of the height. It was a big accomplishment for me, in more ways than one.

Sissy's first climb-9
Yay me! And thank you, Jessica.

I enjoyed the high of my accomplishment for a whole day. Then as is my way, I crashed into a funk. As great as that weekend had been, I fell back to reality with a thud. The view from reality wasn’t as pretty as the view from the top of that rock.

I had been doing so well, too: trusting the Universe, playing by the rules of the Law of Attraction, and being patient. Certainly I was on my way to a great job, or better yet, a great big wad of cash was going to fall in my lap, because I was doing everything right, right?

However, I checked my bank account and realized that the well had finally gone dry. I’m in big-time debt and I have very little coming in. Just enough to eat on and put gas in the car that I can no longer pay for. And to top it all off, even Big Lots turned me down for a job. I can’t even get a minimum wage retail job. What the hell is going on?

My old friends, Fear and Control, came to set up shop in my gut. Fear said, “You’re going to lose everything. You’re going to be out on the streets. No will hire you. Ever. You’re fucked.” Control said, “You have no choice. You can’t have a job you’ll enjoy. You have to take whatever miserable job comes along, if any of them will have you.  You’re desperate. Sell your bikes. How dare you think you can have any fun when you can’t even pay your bills!” Fear and Control work well together, don’t you think?

I cried for days. Fear had me in its grip and I couldn’t see any way out. Then it dawned on me that this is the way I always handle tough situations. I get scared and I try to wrestle the fear to the ground by trying to control it. I try to force things to go the only way I believe they can. I’ve always done things from a place of desperation and low expectations, yet I’ve never been happy with the outcome.

However, my mantra over the last year has been “Do It Different” and the first step to doing it different is to know when you’re doing it the same. Now that I’ve recognized that I’m reacting in the same way, how do I do it different?

I thought about what the opposite of control and fear is and realized that it’s trust and faith. But how does one have trust and faith when there is no certainty? I don’t even know for sure there is a “Universe/God/Creator”, but I believe that there is and that’s as close to certainty as I can get, so I might as well give it a go.

Then I realized that climbing that rock for the first time wasn’t just about climbing a rock; it was a lesson in trust. I looked up trust in the dictionary. It said:

Trust: firm belief in the reliability, truth, ability, or strength of someone or something

In order to climb, to move forward and up, I had to trust that Jeff had tied me correctly to the harness. I had to trust that Jessica had her belay device set up properly. I had to trust the anchors at the top would hold me and that the rope wouldn’t break. Most importantly, I had to trust my sister.

The only thing I had control of was my own mind, which is, in reality, the only thing over which we ever have control.

I had to trust my way to the top. I had no choice. What I discovered that day is that when you trust, things flow much more smoothly. It wasn’t a struggle or a chore. I didn’t have to keep checking the rope for wear. I didn’t have to remind my sister not to drop me. I could just have fun. All I had to do was focus on the task in front of me and trust that the rest was taken care of. To me, that felt like freedom. Trust is surrender to the process. Trust is allowing others to support you, even when you don’t think you deserve it. Trust is a relief.

Sissy's first climb-10

What I learned in the mountains that day is that I can trust my family, that they have my best interest at heart, and that it’s okay to allow them to help and support me. You may think that’s obvious, but it wasn’t to me until now. After decades of believing I was all alone, it’s a relief to finally allow myself to belong.

I’m still working on surrendering my control of work and money to the Universe, but now that I know what it’s like to trust, I don’t think it’ll be that hard.

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Owning My Story Part 1: Mom

Owning our stories and loving ourselves through that process is the bravest thing that we’ll ever do. – Brené Brown

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*Disclaimer – I might not have all the facts right and the timeline is pretty fuzzy, but this isn’t meant to be a factual re-accounting of my childhood. It’s more of an emotional re-accounting of how I perceived my childhood. While my brother and sister shared a childhood with me, their perceptions may be quite different. They have their own stories to tell.

I learned shame at an early age and I’ve carried it with my throughout my adulthood. My childhood wasn’t horrific, but it didn’t have to be horrific for it to have a crippling impact on my life. I hope that by putting my memories down in writing, I’ll be able to let them be where they belong: in the past. As the saying goes, you can’t start the next chapter of your life if you keep re-reading the last one.

I also wanted to write my story because I want to prove to the younger members of my family that we aren’t doomed due to our family history and genetics, but we can use these things to make us stronger and help us grow. My goal is to help myself heal and in the process, perhaps heal all those who came before me and all those not yet born.

I sat in front of my computer for a couple of days, typing and deleting, typing and deleting. I had a hard time figuring out what my story is and how to tell it. I’ve decided to tell it in four parts: Mom, Dad, The Drinking Years, and The Not Drinking Years.

My life wasn’t all bad. I was a pretty cute, outgoing kid and the wheels didn’t fall off the family bike until I was about ten years old. However, you don’t need to hear about the time I was three and rode my tricycle in the 4th of July parade. I was dressed in a little sailor dress with a white bucket hat on. I was pretty darn cute. And you probably don’t care to hear about the time my cousins and I walked what seemed like miles down a blistery hot, dusty Kansas backroad to go swimming in the creek that only had about a foot of water in it, but it was nice and cool and we had fun anyway. Or the time my dad, brother, and sister and I were staying in a cabin in Lake City, Colorado and we went out one night along the winding highway to look at the stars. We were talking about the Colorado cannibal, Alferd Packer, and how this was the area where he ate a few people, when we suddenly heard a loud sound, banging and creeping its way up the highway toward us. It kept getting closer and closer until someone said, “Maybe it’s Alferd Packer’s ghost!” We all looked at each other and at once, turned and bolted for the car, my dad included. We sped off up the highway, laughing hysterically.

Those stories are cute and funny, but they’re not My Story.

My story started out pretty “normal” for the first ten years. I was a tomboy. I loved to ride my bike and climb trees and play just about all the sports, but the normal didn’t last. The first particularly bizarre and scary event happened when I was about ten.  The good Christian folks from Mom and Dad’s Wednesday night prayer group decided Mom was possessed by the devil and that they needed to do an exorcism. So one Wednesday night, they put us kids to bed and got to work on those demons. I heard some scary music, like Gregorian chants (which creep me out to this day), coming from the living room, so I got up to see what was going on. All these people that I trusted had my mom surrounded with their hands on her and they were yelling at her. Someone saw me and Dad told me to go back to my mom and dad’s bedroom. The chanting started again and suddenly, a white dress came floating out of the closet and went swooping around the room. I cowered on the bed as the dress swooped overhead, then I got between the bed and the wall so I’d be safe. Now, I’m pretty sure this was a dream. However, I’ve had several dreams that were so real that to this day, I’m not sure they were dreams. This was definitely one of those. I never spoke about the exorcism and like my dream, I wasn’t even sure it had happened. I asked my Dad about it several years ago and he confessed that it had happened. He said he felt pretty bad about it.

Soon after the “exorcism,” a nurse came to our house to explain to my brother and me that our mom was sick and had to go away for a while. I vaguely remember Mom sitting there, looking off in the distance, like she was someplace else.

“I felt very still and empty, the way the eye of a tornado must feel, moving dully along in the middle of the surround hullabaloo.” – Sylvia Plath

That’s how I felt that day. As the nurse talked to us, I felt numb. Voices were muffled like I was under water. I felt as if I were watching the scene play out from far away. All I wanted to do was get away, so when the nurse asked if I had any questions, I said that I was fine and walked away. I went to my mom and dad’s room to watch an episode of ‘One Day At A Time’ on our little black and white TV. I couldn’t tell you what the episode was about.

After that, we didn’t talk too much about Mom. We were told not to tell anybody about what was going on. Dad and my grandmother said that people wouldn’t understand and it wasn’t their business. That’s where the shame started. Dad wasn’t much on talking about feelings either, so if I couldn’t tell anybody, then I had no way to process what was going on. I had no one to tell me everything would be okay. I told by all the adults in my life to keep quiet and be a good helper. At school, I isolated myself from the other kids, because I was ashamed. I felt that they wouldn’t like me if they found out about my mother. I was so sad all the time and it made for a pretty lonely childhood.

Mom was taken to the Texas State Hospital in Vernon, TX where she spent about a year. Vernon was about a three hour drive from Amarillo. Dad went to see her at least once a month, but we didn’t see her until we went to pick her up. She seemed reluctant to come home.

The State Hospital had a “prom” for the patients while my mom was there. Just like in high school, she was chosen “Prom Queen”. My mother was thrilled. In fact, she seemed to thrive there. A big part of me believes my mother went in and out of the hospital at will, because it was too hard for her to take care of three kids. She was definitely sick, but I also think she enjoyed the attention she got.

As all this was going down with my mother, we had a student teacher in our music class that I adored. She gave me a lot of attention and was very kind and supportive. One day, she announced to the class that it was her last day as student teacher. I was devastated. They had to have one of my friends bring me lunch in the classroom because I was so distraught. No one understood why I was so upset and I wasn’t even sure why myself, but it was like I was losing my mother all over again and this time, it was just too much to handle.

I believe my mother was in and out of the local psychiatric hospital for the next several years. It was very confusing to see her acting fairly normal when we went to visit her, but hearing my dad tell people how bad off she was. She would come home for a while, but inevitably, she would go back. It was a very unstable life for three small children.

When I was in seventh grade, Mom was driving me to school one morning. We lived on a busy street and if you’ve been to Amarillo, you know that the streets are like four lane highways. As we were backing out, I was chattering away and she turned to the side as if checking to see that the road was clear. I looked at her and then back to see what she was looking at. Strangely enough, I remember thinking there must be a hot air balloon in the sky behind me. What else could cause her to look so shocked? When I looked back at her and asked her what was wrong, she didn’t answer. Her mouth just hung open and her eyes were vacant. Then she started making a groaning noise and fell over in the front seat. The car continued to roll across the street as I jumped out and sprinted back to the house to get my dad. Unbeknownst to me, my mother had had electroshock therapy while in the hospital and had since begun to have seizures. It scared me so badly that I told my dad that I wanted her to go back to the hospital and never come home. I felt guilty for wanting her to go away, but I didn’t feel safe around her. She continued to have seizures for the rest of her life. It was like waiting for the other shoe to drop all the time. And the shoes dropped a lot.

Throughout the years, Mom was diagnosed with every mental illness in the DSM: depression, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, and multiple personality disorder. I’m sure there were more. I think they threw diagnoses at her to see if any would stick, but none ever did. To this day, we don’t know what was wrong with my mother. We just know that something was terribly wrong with her.

She was also given every psychiatric drug available at the time. The side effects were terrible, from hair loss to rapid weight gain because she couldn’t stop eating to Tardive Dyskinesia, which caused stiff, jerky movements in her face. And she, like a lot of patients with mental health issues, would periodically go off her meds, sometimes to make the side effects stop; sometimes because she didn’t want to deal with life or something happened that made her feel unsafe. My mom’s biggest concern was for her own safety and she knew if she went off her meds, she would have to go back into the hospital, where she would be locked up and safe.

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Life with my mother wasn’t all bad though. I loved her very much. When she was well, she would be my greatest champion and the only person I could talk to. She was also fun to be around. She laughed a lot and told the worst jokes ever, but she laughed so hard at her own bad jokes that you couldn’t help but laugh along with her. To this day, her horrible jokes are the only ones I know and they still crack me up. She was also very kind and loving. People were drawn to her like moths to a flame. She could be standing behind someone in a line and they would end up telling her their whole life story. If my mother had been healthy, I can’t even imagine the things she could have done.

This pattern of going in and out of the hospital continued throughout my junior high and high school years and for the first few years I was in college. At one point, I thought I was the cause of her issues because every time I came home from college for the summer, she would go into the hospital. I was told it wasn’t me, but I’m still not sure.

Her mental health grew progressively worse over the years, although she quit going to the hospital. I’m not sure why. My dad kept losing or quitting his jobs, so we moved around quite a bit during that time, which probably didn’t make Mom feel very safe.

In Denver, she started seeing a psychiatrist who diagnosed her with Dissociative Disorder or Multiple Personality Disorder. During the nineties, the psychiatric community was abuzz about repressed memories and satanic ritual abuse (SRA). It turned out that this doctor did some regression therapy with her that led he and my mother to believe that SRA had traumatized her at a very young age and caused her developing personality to split as a coping mechanism.

Mom thoroughly believed that she had suffered SRA at the hands of her mother and a cabal of other wealthy people in their small Kansas town. This doctor worked with her in an attempt to integrate all her personalities into one. However, after he had stirred up this pot of personalities, naming them, developing their stories, the doctor declared that he too was a victim of SRA and dropped my mother to focus on his own recovery. This was the diagnosis she would carry with her for the rest of her life.

We soon moved to Tulsa, which was probably the worst place for her to be. In Tulsa, she was not far from where she grew up. She was back in the area where she felt the most afraid. She thought that this cult of abusers would find her there and kill her. She became extremely manic and hyper-vigilant and she became convinced that God had a mission for her and my dad.

At one point, Mom and Dad went down to Amarillo to visit her mother. I don’t know whether the SRA ever really happened – although I have my own memory (or was it a dream) about people in the basement of the church with hoods and robes on and it was dark with only candles lit – but my mother did. They stayed in my grandmother’s house, because she was in an assisted living residence. I don’t know what happened there, but when my mom came home, she told me that she and Dad had gone through the house and found all the knives that my grandmother used to torture her with and threw them away. She told me that she had crossed over the thin line of sanity that she had been balancing on for so long and that she couldn’t come back. It turned out to be true. After they got home, she became increasingly manic and paranoid by the day and it became too much for all of us.

I don’t know much about torture methods, but I’m pretty sure non-stop, manic talking could be considered a torture method. Mom talked day and night, to anyone she could find. It was mostly my dad, my sister, and me. We wanted to help her, but she wouldn’t shut up. To me, her voice became like a mosquito in my ear canal. I could cover my ears, but I could still hear her. She lost weight, because she would talk instead of eat. She had all these plans. She was unsure that my dad was going to be able to keep up with her. Her plan was to start their own church in a small, southern Colorado town. It was called the Church of What’s Happening Now – which my siblings and I find hilarious but if you knew my mother, it made sense – and their mission was to convert Jews to Christianity. She believed that Dad was the chosen one. She believed he could heal people, but he was weak and she had to be the one to push him. By this point, she had worn Dad down to the point he would do whatever she wanted, just to keep her quiet. She was biding her time until God told her when the time was right to go. They were living off a Texaco credit card. They had no home, their belongings were in my garage, and they were living with me.

One day, I had had enough. I don’t recall what set me off, but I couldn’t take her non-stop talking anymore. I told her to get out of my house. She ordered my dad to come with her, but I told her that he could stay, but she had to go. She told me that if she left him there with me, he would sit on my couch and do nothing. I told her that I didn’t care. He could stay, but she had to go. I have never been so angry with anyone in my life and at that moment, I hated her. I wanted her gone. I jumped in my car, drove to the ATM, and got her some money. When I got back, Dad was still sitting on the couch, head hanging down while she talked at him. I drug her outside by the arm, told her to take the money, and go. She refused to take the money, so I shoved it into her shirt, scratching her skin as I did so, and told her to get the fuck out of my house. She just smiled at me. Not a nice smile, but a smile that said, “You’ll regret this” and she drove away.

I never really meant for her to leave forever. I thought it was a fight. I waited for her to come back or call, but three days went by and we didn’t hear from her. My dad called their friends, our former preacher and his wife who lived a few hours away, and they said she had been there, but was headed to Amarillo.

Mom tried to stay with my grandmother in her apartment at the assisted living facility, but she was told to leave and banned from coming back because she became abusive to the staff. She spent another month or two in my grandmother’s house without food, without money. The neighbors, whom we had known for many years, watched out for her and fed her, but she often refused to eat. They would give us reports on her health, but the only one that tried to go help her was her brother and she refused to let him in the house.

I’m not sure how she spent her time. I heard that she would do a lot of walking and eat the crabapples off of people’s trees. Or play with the kids across the street. I think a part of her knew she needed to get help, so she checked herself into the psychiatric hospital, but quickly checked herself back out when she got scared of the people there.

When she left the hospital, she left without her seizure medication. Not long after that, the neighbors noticed that the doors and windows were all open, which was odd for my mother to do. They went into the house to check on her and found her dead in the back bedroom. Since she didn’t have her seizure medication, she had gone into status, which is a prolonged seizure of 5 minutes or more. Status will cause either brain damage or death if not stopped. My mother died three and a half months after I kicked her out of my house. “Get the fuck out!” was the last thing I ever said to her.

 

 

 

The Good, The Meh, The Not So Much

They must have changed their algorithm at Instagram, because I used to put up random snapshots and get likes from a lot of non-followers and my follower list grew slowly but surely. Then one day, things changed. Now I hardly get a like from anyone but my followers, which is not a bad thing of course, but if one wants her photos to be seen by a wider audience, that’s not going to cut it.

Instagram is a game of numbers. The more followers you have, the higher you are on the algorithm and the more people see your photos. However, I’m not willing to play the “get 10,000 followers instantly” game. I want people to actually like what I do. And since I don’t have 10,000 followers or even 200, then it’s not likely that I’m going to get new followers anytime soon, well, except for the ones who are playing the “get 10,000 followers instantly” game. I get a few of them, but they unfollow me pretty quickly if I don’t follow them back. I know that’s the game, but I’m not interested. Maybe I should be.

As I mentioned in a previous post, I started a 365 challenge on April 1 and I think it’s going pretty well. Some photos are good, others not so much. To experiment and see what works, what doesn’t, and to stretch my boundaries is why I’m doing the challenge in the first place, so I accept the good with the not so much.

I’ve never been good at being a beginner. After reading an article by Amy Clover on perfectionism — check out her website Strong Inside Out — I realized that I’ve always thought that you were either good at something or not. If I wasn’t good when I first tried something, I would quit, assuming I would never be good at it so why bother.

I also based my self-worth on whether or not I was good at something right away. Obviously, since I quit before I could get good, my self-worth has suffered quite a bit. My self-worth has also been affected by the number of likes, comments, and followers I got or more often, didn’t get. Basing your self-worth on external validation is a losing battle. It’s about time to validate my own damn self, right?

I’m sticking with this blog and my photography because I enjoy it, whether anyone sees it or not. I’m trying my hand at allowing myself to be a beginner and maybe one day I’ll get better at it. Maybe one day, I’ll be good at it. I’m “doing it different”. That’s my mantra and I’m sticking to it.

 The Good

perfection
Day two: Panning
Day 23: Can't live without
Day 23: Can’t live without
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Day 12: Shoes

The Meh

#instagram #instapic #daily #signs #sign #stroll #coloradosprings
Dday 13: White
Day 7: morning. #365project #photochallenge
Day 7: Morning
Day 19: Four things #instagram #buddha #mirrorimage
Day 19: Four things

The Not So Much

Day 14: My favorite place.
Day 14: My favorite place
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Day 3: Smell
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Day 17: Fresh

Here’s Your Sign

Here’s Your Sign

Don’t think you’re on the right road just because it’s a well-beaten path.

(Author unknown)

A few days ago, I was stuck in my head. You see, I still don’t have a job. I’ve applied for about twenty jobs and not a nibble. I’m trying to be pickier than I have in the past, because I want to do something that will be interesting, challenging, and/or fun. Apparently my résumé doesn’t have the keywords for the fun, interesting jobs. My résumé only shows that I have experience at jobs I don’t want to do anymore, which makes me either over-qualified or under-qualified for all the jobs I’ve applied for.

My goal is not to dwell on the lack of job, but to do things I enjoy doing, so I’ve been working on my photography skills, remembering how to play the piano, and doing a little reading. I’m doing what makes me happy in the hope of bringing more enjoyment into my life, including a fun job. Like begets like, right?

However, sometimes my brain gets stuck in a downward spiral of fear and gloom. When that happens, I go for a hike. (I’ve been hiking a lot lately.) Luckily, hiking takes me out of my head and into my body, which, I have to say, is much more level-headed and intelligent than my brain. I should spend more time there.

I was following a moderately easy trail which begins with a long, slow, steady incline and doesn’t let up until you get to the top. I spent most of the way up talking to the universe. I explained to the universe that I know it gives us signs all the time, but I can’t see any signs, because my fear of scarcity, money in particular, blinds me to any signs the universe may give me. I told the universe it was going to have to make my signs a little more obvious, maybe a big flashing neon arrow pointing HERE’S YOUR SIGN because apparently I’m missing them all.

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When I got close to the top of the incline though, my mind started to slow and my body took over. Lack of oxygen will take you out of your head every time. As I focused on my breathing, I watched as my feet moved steadily along the trail, one step after the other, in rhythm with my breath. I noticed then that I had a bit of tunnel vision. I wasn’t seeing anything other than the trail right in front of me. So I decided to look up, when suddenly a flash of color caught my eye. It was a line of tiny yellow flowers.

 

The flowers weren’t on the main trail, but on a steep side trail. I had to scramble a little bit to get to them. As I headed up, I also noticed to my right, a tiny lavender flower growing all by itself. I’m like a kid in a candy shop when it comes to flowers. My eyes get wide and I even giggle a little with glee. (There’s a reason I’m called a plant nerd.)

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It was then that I realized that these flowers were my sign. I had been so focused on what was directly in front of me that I almost missed it. Come over this way. Look at this beauty that was right here the whole time. Go see what’s at the top of the hill. Turn around. Here’s a view you never would have seen if you hadn’t followed the signs. I reveled in the beauty and gave the universe a big cosmic hug and a thank you.

What was the sign, you say? Stop following someone else’s path.

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I’ve never been one to enjoy the well-beaten path. I’ve tried my whole life because I thought that’s what I supposed to do, but there’s a reason they call it a well-beaten path. It’s already trampled down and smoothed out. It’s been walked by billions of other people. I’ve felt like a failure my whole life, because I couldn’t stay on that damn well-beaten path, no matter how hard I tried. I’ve come to realize though, that the people who move society forward and make a difference in the world are those who create their own path. That’s all I’ve ever wanted.

Most of the beauty is off the beaten path. It’s where the wildflowers grow. It’s where the extraordinary view is. There may be big boulders on the path, but it’s kind of fun to figure out how to get around them. Should I go this way through the brush? Should I go that way through the water? Or should I try my hand at bouldering and just climb over?

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We all have a choice. We can choose the smooth trail with most of the obstacles worn down or removed, where we simply have to put one foot in front of the other to get where we want to go and that’s okay. Or we can choose to head off onto a side trail even though we’re not exactly sure where it’s going. Perhaps it’ll end up somewhere amazing and give us lots of fun and interesting challenges. Perhaps it will take us somewhere the world has never been. Or perhaps it will lead us back to the well-beaten path eventually, but life is an adventure and that’s what makes it fun.

I’m accepting that I actually like my little side trail. It’s helped me to heal. It’s helped me to help others to heal. It’s led me toward self-acceptance and dare I say, a wee bit of confidence in who I am. It’s led me back to who I truly am. It’s shown me my soul.

If I Hear “Everybody’s a Photographer” One More Time…

If I Hear “Everybody’s a Photographer” One More Time…

I want to be a photographer. There. I said it. I try to keep my deepest desires close to the vest, because I don’t want anyone to tell me the “reality” of trying to break into the photography biz. How “everybody’s a photographer” or how their brother has 15,000 followers on Instagram or how I’d better have a back-up plan. I’m not confident enough for that yet.

My goal is to quietly teach myself the art of photography. I’ve been taking photos for quite a while now, but I’ve been living in my comfort zone of landscapes and macros of flowers, so I started a 365 photo challenge in the hopes of breaking out of my rut. I’m posting them on Instagram (@stefaniejones365), but I’m not pushing the hash tags. I’m doing this project for me, to challenge myself and to have a record of my progress. And it is challenging me. It’s not so much a technical challenge, but a composition challenge. My ultimate subject is people. Hopefully, somewhere along the way during this challenge, I’ll get over my fear of photographing people which I know will open an avenue to the real purpose of my photography. That, however, I will keep to myself.

I get a lot of my learnin’ from YouTube and a vlog I particularly like is Ted Forbes’ The Art of Photography. Ted is a true lover of photography and has introduced me to tons of photographers I’ve never heard of. The video I watched today was called If Ansel Adams Used Instagram, in which he spoke about being a part of one’s time. Adams was an innovator in his time. He was doing things no one else was doing and pushing the boundaries of the technology of his time. Ted says (and I would agree), Adams would surely embrace the technology we have today. He would have been one of the first to try drones and the latest camera technology and would still make amazing images. So, yes, everybody these days is a photographer, but not everybody is an innovator and making unique and interesting photos. As with any art, you have to think outside the box and more importantly in photography, you have to learn to see.

Peter McKinnon is another vlogger I enjoy. His videos are mostly concerned with teaching technique and how to do cool things with the latest technology, but today he posted a video called Stop Taking The Same Boring Photos. In this video, he encouraged people to delve a little deeper in their subject. His example was a salad. You could take a picture of the finished salad and that would be okay or you could take a photo of the prep work or the ingredients before it is all put together or present it in a wine glass or even show the empty bowl with a little dressing and tiny bits of salad leftover. Those images are far more interesting than simply a picture of a salad. In order for your work to stand out, you have to do it different. (See what I did there. Maybe I should rename this blog “Doing It Different”). You have to give your viewer or client that little something extra, so that they’ll be more likely to use you again or recommend you to their friends.

So, that’s what I’m working on right now. Learning to see more, to see differently. My challenge is definitely a challenge and sometimes I fear I won’t be able to come up with a decent image, but that’s what trying new things is all about. My photos may not always great and my ideas might flop, but it sure is fun trying.

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This photo accidentally turned out to be even more interesting than I first thought. Instagram wasn’t interested, but I love it.

I Got Triggered

I Got Triggered

 

I’ve been having a hard time lately. This whole “do it different” thing isn’t working as quickly as I wanted it to. It’s not easy to change who I’ve been for longer than I care to admit.

Yesterday, I got triggered and I reacted in the same way I always have:  with a bout of kick-me-in-the-gut, spit-in-my-face depression. I’ve been trying so hard to believe that you get what you most desire if you stop doing the things you do that stop those things from coming to you. It seems so easy for everyone else. Since I’m “doing it different”, I thought that surely I would  get at least a little bit of what I wanted. However, I’m not and someone else is and it feels as if the Universe is refusing to conspire to help me.

Disappointment is the catalyst for my depression. If I have a big desire, I expect the Universe will help me get it. Instead, the Universe gives it to someone else or at least doesn’t give it to me. Then I become deeply disappointed which leads to a big depression and then I give up. I announce to the Universe-very dramatically I might add-that I’m done trying, hoping, wishing, and expecting for anything to get better for me. I feel like I’m the cosmic joke. I want something. The Universe holds out its hand, offering me what I want. I reach out to take it, then it yanks its hand back and yells, “Psych!!” and laughs in my face. I’m pretty sure this is an accurate description of what happens.

Now, I don’t really believe this is how things work. I believe that the Universe has my best interest in mind, just as it does for all of us. I don’t believe in a vengeful Universe. I know it’s me that keeps me from getting what I want, but it seems like there are rules to life and no one gave me the rule book. And certainly no one taught me how to play the game.

I’ve found that movement, be it yoga, biking, hiking, or even weight lifting, is the only thing that helps when I am in deep despair. It helps take me out of my head for a while. Luckily, I live near the mountains and have access to some great hiking trails, so to make myself feel better, I went for a hike. I took the hardest trail the park has and walked without any plan, except to knock the edge off the sadness. I ended up taking a trail that went higher into the hills than I have gone before. I put in my earbuds and listened to Abraham for some words of wisdom. I took pictures of the pasqueflowers that were blooming along the trail. I caught whiffs of the warm pine scented air I love so much and most importantly, I breathed deep and hard.

After walking as far as I felt like going, I turned around and headed back toward the parking lot. I wasn’t paying a whole lot of attention and found myself on a side trail that seemed to go nowhere. Just ten feet away, I saw the easy trail. It was flat and smooth and wide. No boulders. But I was doing the hard trail, dang it, so I backtracked a little and got back on the trail. Soon, I was off in the weeds again and there was the easy trail right in front of me. Again. This time, I started laughing. I realized that that is what I do in life. I choose to do it the hard way. I force and push. I demand that the Universe give me what I want. I cling stubbornly to how I think things are supposed to go, even though my way has never worked before. The easy path is right there for me and yet I turn away because life isn’t easy, right? It’s supposed to be hard and we’re supposed to work for everything we get.

Well, this time, I gave up and took the easy trail for a while. When I came upon a crossroads, I knew that I didn’t have to choose to go the hard way. I knew it was okay to keep taking the easy way, but I also knew that sometimes the challenging way is more fun. Knowing that I could choose which path I wanted to take, I decided to take the more challenging trail, not because I needed to prove something, but because it was more fun.

I don’t know what taking the easy path in life is supposed to look like, but I do know that when I give up the struggle, things tend to go smoother. I’m going to take the pressure off myself, not try so damn hard all the time, and quit trying to tell the Universe how to do its job. The Universe knows what I want and it knows the easiest, most fun way to get it. I think I’ll try that for a while.

 

No That’s Not A Mugshot

 

As you can plainly see, I’m not comfortable in front of a camera, but I’ll sacrifice my dignity for you, my dear reader.

As you may know, I just relocated to Colorful Colorado. It was great the first few weeks, when I was brand new and everything was exciting. I went out scouting for a good bike shop and to find where all the natural foods stores and yoga studios were. I suppose I was trying to bring back a sense of security. When I found those places, I would feel more at home.

It worked, too, until I hit a snag. I spent eleven days in a wheat-induced depression. Yes. I accidentally ingested a small crumb of onion ring coating and spent the next week and a half in a dark funk. That’s what wheat does to me.

During those eleven days, I went from feeling like I was getting a fresh start at a new life to feeling like nothing would ever work out for me. To top it all off, I had to start looking for a job and that’s never fun, even on a good day.

However, on day twelve, I woke up feeling like someone had lifted all the wet wool blankets off my shoulders and just like that, I felt good again. Thank goodness, but I still had that pesky job to look for.

At this point in my life, I don’t want a job. I’ve it with toiling day after day doing something I don’t like to do in order for some old man to grant me some peanuts so I can have a place to live and food to eat. As I’ve said before, I’ve hated virtually every one of my jobs. It would be so much easier if I were a massage therapist or an herbalist or a yoga teacher or an acupuncturist. I were a “something” it would make those job search engines work better for me. But I’m not a “something”. There is no job called “I just need a job, man.”

The one thing I might be is a would-be entrepreneur. I have a ton of ideas for businesses, but nothing’s really stuck yet. Besides, I have no money, no connections, and I’m a big fraidy cat when it comes to selling my ideas to strangers. Those are all excuses, I know. I have an Elizabeth Gilbert quote on my wall that reads

“You’re supposed to start before you’re ready and before you’re good at it and that’s how you get ready and that’s how you get good at it.”

It takes a lot of courage to start before you’re ready. People tell me that they think I was brave for picking up and moving to a new place just because I wanted to. I don’t necessarily think it was brave. It’s taken me years to actually move. I finally told myself that I had to shit or get off the pot and I’m never one to back down from a dare, but I had to tackle a lot of demons before I was ready. So after several years of therapy and with demons mostly tackled, I moved. I still have a few straggler demons to slay, though, and they’re big and mean and really strong.

One of them rules over my work life. It looms dark and menacing over every bright idea I come up with. It snarls at me, “You can’t make a living doing that. You’ve got to get a job and work hard. You’re not talented enough or smart enough. You’ve never been very good at any of your previous jobs, so you won’t be any good at this either. What if you fail? There’s nothing left after that. Better just stick to what you know.” (My demons talk a lot.)

I know, though, that in order to diminish this demon, I have think different. I can’t go about finding work and thinking about money in the same way I always have if I want things to be different this time. So, as I said in my previous blog post, I’m not going to look for a job. I’m going to let it come to me.

I know what you’re thinking. “Yeah right. People just come to your door and hand you a job.” That’s not what I mean. I mean that I’m going expect the right job (or a giant wad of cash, which would be even better) to come along at the right moment. I’m not going to worry or stress about it and I’m not going to take a job that feels wrong in my gut just because I’m scared. I have faith that the Universe will bring me an opportunity that will make me say “Heck yeah!” instead of, “It’s better than nothing.” It’s a relief to hand the management of my financial life over to the Universe. It has a lot more resources at its disposal than I do.

The other demon that still has its claws in me is the one that tells me that I’m not creative, that I will never be able to make a living doing what I love. (And of course, the only reason to do anything is so that we can make money from it, right?) In the past couple of years, though, I’ve allowed myself to delve into what I love – art. I’ve taken several graphic design classes and a couple of art classes and they have given me so much joy, it makes me cry. (Like right now, I’m literally tearing up.) I stress myself out a little, because I don’t want to wait until I get good enough to make it part of my résumé, but at this point, I’m really not good enough. I don’t have the portfolio and that fear of never being good enough has stopped me from even working on one right now. I can’t get myself to draw or paint or work on my logo or even do tutorials off of YouTube. This demon will not let me play.

However, the demon will allow me to write this blog and practice my photography. I don’t know why. Perhaps all that other stuff is simply play for me – and there’s nothing wrong with playing. What I truly love to do is write and take photographs. Maybe my love is stronger than that nasty, ol’ demon and that’s why it can’t stop me. So instead of fussing over finding a job, I’m making writing and photography my focus. I’m going to be more consistent with my blog and perhaps even up my blog game with a wordpress upgrade.

I’m also opening a new Instagram account within the next couple of days that will be devoted to a 365 photography project. I’m excited to watch the progression of my photography over the next year and I hope to finally find my “voice” (or is it “eye”). I’m going to step outside of my comfort zone of landscapes and flowers, and bring more of myself into my photography. (And nothing is more out of my comfort zone than a selfie. See above.)

I’ve been focused on this concept of “doing it different” for some time now, but I didn’t quite understand how to do that. Now I see that doing things different requires a shift in perspective. I can’t see and think about things in the same way I always have and expect different results. Isn’t that the definition of crazy? I have to approach my life and how I think about things in a different way. They talk about the shift in consciousness that’s going on in the world right now. I believe that shift in consciousness starts with each of us. I’m happy to have finally figured that out and I hope that my shift adds some momentum to the big one that’s underway.

I hope you’ll stick with me as I work my way through doing my life different. If you find yourself “doing it different” as well, I hope you’ll share with me in the comments. I’d love to hear all about it.